In Honor of My Father


The Nap

He lays on his back on the cold, hard, blue linoleum floor after

the midday dinner of homegrown roast beef, potatoes, wilted

lettuce salad, hot coffee, coconut topped cake.  His left arm

forms a right angle at the elbow as the back of his wrist rests

on his forehead, touching the slight curliness of his not quite

black hair.  His left leg stretched out straight, right one drawn

up, knee jutting out.  The sleeves of his worn, pale blue dress

shirt rolled up; his overalls show signs of wear and washing.

Every day after dinner he naps in the same spot in this same

position for exactly fifteen minutes before returning to the field.

 

My father.

 

Seventeen years after his death, one day as I napped, slowly

driving off, astonishment stuck.  There I lay exactly as my

father used to so many years ago, my left arm forming a right

angle, wrist on my forehead, left leg stretched out straight, right

one drawn up, knee jutting out.  I remember not just in heart

and mind.

 

The body always knows.

 

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Taken at the top of Mt. Evans in Colorado when I was a child.

 

 

The World in One Room


 

Four jaguar heads stare at me,

Mexican, Costa Rican.

A third guards the mantel,

partially hidden in tropical plants,

attack ready, tail raised, jaws open,

teeth bared.

 

My feet rest on a coffee table

carved in Kashmir.  I look at the photo

of the young man whose family made it.

He took me home to meet his mom,

to the floating market.

Once peace reigned there.

Now I wonder if he is safe, alive.

 

The Hoop Dancer raises his arms,

the Acoma pot exudes ancient

black on white beauty, painted

by the tips of yucca stems.

The Thai Spirit House begs

to appease evil spirits.

I should put food and flowers there;

I never do.

 

Corn plant of life–for Navaho, Hopi,

me, painted, growing up my wall,

blue and red birds flitting through

the stalks, singing ancient songs.

Corn Maiden rug hanging on the wall;

an Isleta Pueblo girl won a contest

with its design.  Four Corn Maiden

Kachinas watch the room.

Corn everywhere–Sacred Corn.

 

Three Ethiopian crosses, St. George

and the Dragon, Frida Kahlo doll,

Argentinian Madonna, Tohono O’odham

baskets, a painted cow skull, Nigerian carved

wooden elephants, including a Chieftains chair,

the stained glass transom window from the house

where my dad lived from birth to ten.

 

In a room filled with windows, there

is little room for paintings, yet–

purple bison glide across the prairie,

an Iraqi woman flies through an azure

sky filled with dark blue birds,

a 15th century mystic, Kabir, tells

a tale in poetry, Navaho spirits,

pumas walking toward me–

my obsession.

 

Rugs scattered–Kerman,

an unknown Persian city, Afghani,

Egyptian, Indian, Zapotec, scraps of old

Turkish rugs sewn together.

 

In one cabinet, Grandmother’s china,

Mom’s Czech crystal–a wedding present

decades ago, Grandson’s painted art,

the silverware Dad gave Mom on their

first wedding anniversary,  Mom’s

everyday dishes–flowers blooming.

I use them every day.

 

These objects–a testament to who I am:

World wanderer, seeker, citizen.

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Memorial Day–Memories


While I was growing up, my mom grew peonies by the side of the vegetable garden.  Red, pink, white, huge spectacular blooms that always arrived around this time of year just in time for Memorial Day.  We would pick many, put them in mason jars and take them to my father’s and her family’s cemetery plots.  She has created a metal apparatus to hold them so the wind would not blow them over.  We took water to fill the jars.  We did this every Memorial Day always.

No one lives close any more.  There is no one left to take flowers there.

My mother’s family members are buried in the Mound City, Missouri Cemetery.

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My mother’s parents’ gravestone.  She was Nellie Narcissus Kaiser before she married rather late for back then–in her late twenties.  I never knew my grandfather.  He was so much older than she that even though he lived to be 80, he died long before I was born. My great-grandfather Kaiser was born in Switzerland and brought here as a child.

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The gravestone of my mother’s grandmother.  I know she lived with my grandmother and grandfather a lot of the time from family photos, but I also know that she died in San Diego.  No one ever told me how she got there or why.

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The gravestone of Aunt Julia, Mother’s sister.  She never married, loved fancy antiques and china.  I frequently use some of what she left me.  She came to see me rather often and we visited antique stores when she visited.  To say she was an independent woman is an understatement.

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My parents’ gravestone is on the right and Dad’s parents’ on the left–in the cemetery in Fillmore, Missouri.  My grandfather, Pleasant Lightle, had walked from Illinois to Missouri as a child according to family stories.  My parents met dancing. I always smile when I see the peonies planted at their graves.

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This is the gravestone of my great-grandfather, Dad’s mother’s father, who came to the US from Switzerland when he was 18.  According to my dad, he did not want to be conscripted into the Swiss army because at that time Swiss soldiers were being hired out as mercenaries.  His mother stood on the roof of their house waving until she could see him no longer.  They never saw each other again.  I grew up on the land he homesteaded in Andrew County, Missouri.  Andrew County is filled with descendants of immigrants who came from Switzerland.

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The old carriage house near the house where Dad spent the first ten years or so of his 90 years.  It is all that is left standing.

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The house where Dad lived the last 80 years of his life and where I grew up.

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When I was a child, the building in the foreground was used at various times as a farrowing house, once for Rhode Island Red chickens, and to store various farm supplies.  When I went to visit Dad after Mom died and we were at the cemetery on Memorial Day, a man came up to Dad and asked if he was Doyle Lightle.  They started chatting and I learned that when Dad first built it during Prohibition times, he held dances there.  The sheriff would send deputies to watch and make sure no one was drinking.  I had lived there and visited there for decades and had never heard this story.

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I took this photo standing on the levee next to the Missouri River looking toward the Rulo, Nebraska bridge.  This is the land my mother’s family owned.  On some Sundays as a treat, we would cross the bridge to a restaurant on the Nebraska side.  It was famous for its fried catfish and carp.

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This is country with lots of water and trees.  This picture was taken near Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  Several times in my life, I have seen flooding from the bluffs on the Missouri side all the way to the bluffs on the Kansas and Nebraska side of the river.  When I was a child, my uncle and aunt lived on the river farm until a flood reached half way up the second story of their house.  They gave up and moved to town.

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When I was a child, there were trees like this in lots of places on Mom’s family’s farm.  About this time of year we would hunt for morels and often pick a bushel basket full.  Mom dipped them in egg and cornmeal, then fried them.  We practically lived on them for week or two.  I was shocked as an adult to go into a fancy market and discover that dried morels were 95 dollars a pound.

 

 

 

 

Sunday Poem–“Hair”


No females in my family had long hair.

Dad did not like it,

said it showed male domination

over women.

Once when grown and gone

from home, I began to grow mine

out, experiment.

When he saw it, he told me

he thought it unbecoming.

I cut it.

Mom said she had long hair

when she was young.

Her dad forbade her to cut it.

In her twenties she chopped her golden locks

off, flapper style, then hid her head

in a scarf, afraid.

 

Note:  This poem is from the family section of my book, “On the Rim of Wonder”.

 

 

 

 

A Tribute to My Dad, Doyle Lightle


Dad lived his entire life, 90 years, on the farm which my great grandfather, Gottlieb Werth, homesteaded in the middle 1800s.  Gottlieb Werth came to the United States from Switzerland when he was 18.  Even though Dad lived in the same place all his life, he liked road trips.  The first occurred when I was three.  He drove us all the way from Northwest Missouri to Monterey, Mexico.  I still have photos of us wading in the Gulf in Texas before we crossed into Mexico.  Thereafter, we almost never missed at least one road trip a year between wheat harvest and the start of school.  Sometimes instead of a summer trip we took one around Christmas, like the year we went to Florida when I was in elementary school.  I skipped school a couple of weeks, took my work along, and came home ahead because the flu, which I missed, put everything behind.

By the time I was six, I had probably covered half the continental United States and, of course, been to Mexico.  I do not remember some of those first trips but the later ones I remember well, like the summer we spent in Crested Butte, Colorado, when it was still a mining town, and another in Placerville, Colorado, down the road from Telluride.  Then it was just a nowhere place, filled with the Victorian houses of its mining heyday.  Dad joked later that he should have bought one of those houses when it was cheap.

One year, the year between my junior and senior year in high school, we took a one month trip and drove 6,000 miles, from home to the Black Hills, where we had relatives, to Vancouver, to Vancouver Island and then to Victoria.  We visited every national park along the way,  Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Olympic, then drove up the Columbia and cut back across Rocky Mountain National Park and through Colorado. On an earlier trip we went to every park in Utah and Northern Arizona and Mesa Verde.

Dad’s interest in and curiosity about everything seemed endless.  He tried the latest agricultural methods in his farming, was an avid conservationist, wanted to check everything out on these trips, talked to people about what they were doing.  At home he read National Geographic and Scientific American and endless books.

Because of these trips, his sense of wonder, his propensity for intellectual activity, my friends in college were always shocked to find out he was a farmer.  They often thought, originally, that he was a college professor.

He moved into this house where I grew up when he was ten.  After Mom died, Dad and I were at her grave on Memorial Day when a man came up and starting talking with Dad.  I learned that the building in the foreground of this photo, before it was used for livestock and storage, was used for dancing during the Depression. The sheriff would send out deputies to make sure no illegal alcohol was consumed. I took this photo four years ago when I took a trip back.

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There used to be woods to the right of this photo but someone bought the land and bulldozed down all the huge oak trees.  The tall douglas fir tree in the middle was tiny when we brought it home on one of our trips out West.

I will forever be thankful to Dad for instilling in me a love of exploration, wonder, and curiosity.

 

 

The Fly, Wine, and Fennel


I look .

The fly floats in my glass of Seven Deadly Zins,

full to two golden flowers half way up the rim.

What kind of flowers?

I look.

Unsure, I watch the fly struggle, floundering around

in the deep red, the color that turns tongues

purple drunk.

I look.

Dead.  It floats.

Not poor, frugal.  I debate.

Should I throw the wine out?  Drink it?

I take the silver teaspoon–from the six piece

set Father gave Mother in 1946 on their

first anniversary–dip it in the dark, remove

fly, throw it down the antique copper sink drain.

I pick up the glass.

I look,

swirl the wine around in the bowl, take a sip.

Surely 15 percent alcohol kills germs.

 

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It was past seven, time to fix dinner.  Since I live a lone, I often fix dinner for two, save half, and have dinner ready for a hectic evening after work.  Just warm in the microwave.

Cod with Fennel, Mint, and Lemon

Two cod loins–one if extra large

1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic

Olive oil

1/2 to 1 cup finely sliced small carrots

1/2 large poblano pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

several cauliflower florets thinly sliced

crushed dried mint

essential oil of lemon and fennel (if you do not use essential oils,

you can use 1 tsp. ground fennel and lemon juice to taste)

 

Pour enough olive oil in a ten inch skillet to totally cover the bottom.  Saute garlic and carrots in the olive oil until carrots are almost tender.  Sprinkle a small handful of mint over the garlic and carrot mixture.  Add cauliflower and poblano pepper.  When poblano peppers are about to change color, add the cod.  Sprinkle drops of lemon and fennel essential oil over the cod–or the ground fennel and lemon juice.  Cook until the cod flakes.    Serve over rice.  I use basmati.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Dad–In Memory


Today in the United States is Father’s Day.  As I drove home from Dallas through the green countryside, I noticed a few places looked like the landscape in Northwest Missouri where I grew up.  My great grandfather from Switzerland homesteaded there in the 1800’s.  My dad lived on that farm all of his ninety years.  A year ago in June, I went back for a long weekend, visited the land I still have on the home place and drove to Rulo, Nebraska, where we used to go eat catfish and carp.  The last flood nearly demolished the place where we went.  Driving along, I reflected on the scenes I saw there last summer.

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This is the house where I grew up and the building in the foreground my dad built long before he married my mom and I was born.  During the Depression, when it was new, he occasionally held dances there and the sheriff stayed to make sure there was no moonshine. My dad lived in this house 80 of his 90 years.

The following is a poem I wrote about Dad after my visit there last summer.  There used to be a lake behind the house with a large grove of burr oak trees surrounding it.  The lake is still there but the beautiful trees are gone except for one lone tree, the rest bulldozed down.  This poem is in my collection of poetry, On the Rim of Wonder.

 

My Father

He watches:

The house where he was born

gone

Only the old carriage house stands.

The young man who farms the land cannot bear to tear it down.

He watches:

The ancient burr oaks and black walnuts

gone

bulldozed into waste piles or sold for greed.

He watches:

The house he lived and loved in for eighty years

still stands on land his family owned more than 150 years.

Strangers live there.

He sees the well trimmed lawn,

new picket fence

children playing.

He watches:

The pond he proudly built and stocked with fish reflects the summer sun.

The tree filled park between the pond and house

gone

He wonders why someone would destroy such beauty.

He watches:

The walnut grove where he ran cattle

gone

The pond where his grandson caught the giant turtle

gone

plowed over and planted in corn and soybeans.

He watches.

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The old carriage house.

Sacred Corn


SAM_0035   In the summer on hot, humid nights, you can hear the corn grow.  My great grandfather, my grandfather, and my father grew corn.  I grow corn in that same rich loess soil of Northwestern Missouri.  Soil laid down by Ice Age glaciers thousands of year ago.  Only on a few hill tops, here and there, will you find non glacial soil. Repeatedly, daily, I walk by the sacred corn plant of life painted on my hall corner.  This sacred corn corner houses three corn maiden kachinas and a drum decorated with corn maidens.  I give thanks to corn for my house and the life I lead.

Corn Song

I sing the song of ancients:

pueblo peoples,

Anazazi, Hopi, Zuni.

I sing the song of an America long gone.

Maya, Aztec, Tolmec.

I sing the song of life:  colors of the rainbow

golden, red, white, blue.

I sing the song of now:  thick, endless

identical rows.

Pioneer, Monsanto,

anhydrous ammonia,

atrazine.

I sing the song of hope and joy:

an ancient reclaiming,

a klaidescope of colors,

butterflies and fireflies.

I sing the eternal human song.

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This is a Navaho kachina.  Kachina are actually Hopi, but Navaho artists now make kachinas as well.  The first corn maiden kachina I bought.

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Spotted corn kachinas, on the left, are unusual.  It took me years to find one.  The kachina on the right was created by R Pino, who is both Hopi and Navaho.

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Every year Pendleton runs an art contest among Native American students.  The winner’s art work is transformed into saddle blankets.  This design, created by Mary Beth Jiron, is the latest in this Student Series. There are three corn  maidens  on each side of the blanket, representing the different varieties of corn grown by native peoples, yellow, red, blue, white, black, and spotted.

The Story Circle Network Conference and My Commitment: This Is What I Know


ad_scnconfWhen I first started blogging more than two years ago, I committed to blogging once a week.  That I managed for a year or so and then since that time, it became more sporadic.  Full time job, writing poems for my book, visitors, mini vacations, all sorts of stuff got in the way.  Really, I let it lapse, but refused to give up.  Last Thursday, I drove to Austin with my daughter and grandson for the biannual Story Circle Network Conference.  The plan:  while I conferred, they played.  The Story Circle Network is an organization for women which encourages women to write, to tell their stories, to share these stories, and when possible and desired, publish those stories in various forms from memoir to poetry.  This was my second time to attend and my first time to attend as a new board member.  A former mentor/teacher of mine, Len Leatherwood, facilitated  a workshop entitled “Transforming Your Writing Life in Just 20 Minutes a Day”, the last workshop I attended.  She blogs everyday.  I follow her blog.  No matter what, she sits down and writes 20 minutes minimum a day separate from the writing she does with her students–she teaches writing privately in southern CA.  One of her recent blogs has been accepted for publication–a piece of flash fiction.  She nearly begged us to commit to this kind of writing practice.  Previously, I had refused, flat out refused, partly thinking that if I tried it, more than half the resulting writing would be crap.  Nevertheless, she and her workshop convinced me that at least for one month I must try this.  Now all of you following my blog will be inundated with daily blog posts.  I am filled with curiosity as to how people will respond.  Maybe it will be like my Facebook posts–yes, I am an almost addict–the posts I consider most meaningful for the universe at large are the ones people ignore and the ones I consider personal trivia receive the most response.  Maybe I will track what appeals to my readers.  Some I won’t know because with blogging I share to Facebook and to a couple of professional networks, I have no clue who read what.  Once I received an email regarding a poem I posted. Although it never showed up as a like, the lady actually told me she read my poem in church!  Who would have guessed. I forgot to time myself so have no idea how long I have been here writing.

Here I am writing about why I am writing.  On the stove I smell Jasmine rice cooking.  I love Jasmine rice from Thailand.  I am a very picky rice eater and prefer to mix equally white Jasmine rice with black and red.  For one thing, it looks lovely when done–a sort of dark reddish purple.  Since I sautéd chopped garlic in olive oil, then added the rice and sautéd for about 15 more seconds, then added water and some broth just before I started writing this, the smell of Jasmine rice fills the house.  I piled a bunch of paper towels on the top before I put on the lid or you can use some cloth towel–a habit I picked up from my Iranian ex-husband.  Iranians really know how to cook rice.  I am also drinking a glass of Cupcake Shiraz which I bought on the way home from work.  And yes, Shiraz is also the name of a city in Iran where they actually grow grapes or at least used to. But of course, drinking wine is no longer acceptable in Iran or at least not publicly.  Good Muslims do not drink at all.

I did write something worthwhile while in this workshop and will share–doing this last because it won’t count as my daily writing since I wrote it yesterday.

 

This Is What I Know

 

My parents loved me, really loved me.

My mom was proud of my accomplishments.

Dad gave me a love of books, intellectual curiosity, and a

sense of wonder.

Mom gave me a love of music, beauty, and cooking.

Happiness is a choice.

I do not believe in luck.  You make your own luck.

Life is an exciting adventure.

Horses give me joy.

Singing gives me joy.

Dancing gives me joy even if I rarely have the opportunity.

Family relationships can be distressingly complicated.

I am proud of my children and their accomplishments.

Religion matters much less to me than 99 per cent of the people I know.

Ethnic and religious prejudice distress me and I do not

understand those kinds of attitudes.

I am a good writer.

I want to make a real difference in the world.

I am happy 99 percent of the time.

Blessings flood my life.

My close friends and children and grandson are more

important to me than they know.

Writing has enriched my life.

I have few regrets:

One I have rectified;

the other I cannot–

my dad is dead.

Barbie Doll


Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty, petite, blue-eyed and blond, my mother, one

fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mom’s death, Dad said, “Barbara was

afraid of absolutely no one and nothing!”  They married late:  34 & 38.  He

adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life with horses, music, love,

cornfields, hay rides, books, and ambition.  Whatever she felt she had missed,

my sister and I were going to possess:  books, piano lessons, a college

education.  Her father, who died long before I was born, loved, fancy,

fast horses.  So did she.  During my preschool, croupy years she quieted my

hysterical night coughing with stories of run away horses pulling her in a

wagon.  With less than one hundred pounds and lots of determination, she

stopped them, a tiny Barbie Doll flying across the Missouri River Bottom,

strong, willful, and free.